An Unlikely Artist Con’t

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How one talented cat is making a difference

Story and photo by Sarah Ryeland

Meet Napster.

He is mysterious and aloof. He has struggled with his weight. He loves to paint. And he’s a cat.

Napster’s life story has all the typical trials and tribulations you’d expect from an artist. Born to a wild mother 12 years ago in Bobcaygeon, the kitten was soon abandoned and left to fend for himself until someone scooped him up and brought him to Muskoka.
He was given to Nancy Tapley as a barn cat – meant to earn his keep by catching mice and gracing guests with his cute kitten ways. Soon enough though, he began creeping into the main house to eat and sleep, eventually deciding that life on the inside was a little more to his liking.

And with that, Napster – so named because he was free, likes to nap and “when he’s petted, he downloads music,” Tapley jokes – happily became an indoor cat.

Tapley, Franklin Ward Councillor in Lake of Bays, was happy to have the cat in her home, but soon noticed that being indoors was making Napster a little flabby. It wasn’t too much of a concern however, until one day he hit rock bottom: Napster couldn’t fit through his cat door.

“After he got wedged in the cat flap, which was just horrifying,” says Tapley, “I said ‘well, I don’t know what to do.’ He’s on limited food, but he goes and catches the odd mouse to top it up!”

And that’s where her nephew David stepped in.

“David said that diet wasn’t going to work unless you’ve got exercise,” remembers Tapley. “So he and his best bud Mike started coming down here and they’d just scoop Napster off the couch and they’d take him somewhere on the property so he had to walk back home.”

All that exercise did Napster good. For months, David and Mike encouraged the cat to go for walks.

“He lost four and a half pounds,” says Tapley. “That’s a lot for a cat! He could get in and out of the cat flap, he started to self-walk, his confidence level came up and he had a better body image.”

And that’s when winter hit. Knowing that the snowy weather wasn’t ideal for Napster’s outdoor pursuits, Tapley and her nephew tried to come up with new ways to encourage him to do something other than eat.

“David said that the cat needed a hobby. I said yeah right! We put him on the elliptical machine and of course the cat fell off,” Tapley jokes. “We said well, he can’t do the gym, sorry. And he’s not good at things like cards or dominoes. And David jokingly said well, he can paint! Why can’t he be a famous artist?”

And so, a star was born.

Tapley started looking into feline art and found that there were actual galleries devoted to cat paintings. The problem was that those feline artists painted with their paws – something Napster didn’t like.

“He hated it on his paws, squishing between his toes,” she says.

So she gave Napster the option of painting with his tail and the cat was off and running.

It takes more than one person to create a Napster original – one to hold the artist on their shoulder with his rear end facing the canvas, and one to hold the paint. Napster then peeks over his shoulder while he dips his tail in the colours, and swishes across the blank canvas to create his masterpiece.

He uses acrylic paints because oil-based paints would be harmful and watercolours stain the tip of his tail.

“He’s fine with having the paint on his tail,” says Tapley. “He’s fine with having his tail washed, too. We just take him to the sink and spray it clean.”

What Napster creates truly are works of art. The abstract, colourful pieces really catch the eye, with every person seeing something different. That level of personal involvement might even be the secret to his success.

Napster began painting in the winter of 2010 and by June of that year he had about eight designs. At first, Tapley just thought of the art as a way to keep her hefty cat healthy. But once her Bondi Village resort started hosting its seasonal guests, she had an idea.

“I thought you know, the G8 is coming and we have guests staying here. And as a bit of a joke I said why don’t we do a line of cards? What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? He could maybe raise a bit of money for charity.”

So, Tapley went to Huntsville and got some cards made up with Napster’s artwork on the front and his story on the back. She didn’t get too many printed, thinking that she might only sell a few. Within five days the cards were sold out.

Tapley was shocked.

“I just thought everybody would have a bit of a laugh and the worst thing that happens is we’re out the money and we send them to great aunt Mabel as thank you cards,” she laughs.

But word got out, demands were coming in, and Napster had to make a second print run. When the next batch of cards arrived, Tapley took them to a cookout at the resort and sold out that very night.

Visitors began asking for eight-by-ten prints and even originals. One guest even bought a print for his friend Vanessa Branson – sister of billionaire celebrity Richard Branson and part of the Virgin business empire in England.

“Of course we all started laughing,” says Tapley. “We were expecting the call for tail paintings on the tail fins for Virgin Airlines!”

Visitors to Muskoka were eager to see Napster’s work, snapping up cards and prints as soon as they were available. Now, his work can be seen not only in Canada and England, but around the world.

Napster’s art has been purchased for homes and businesses in Arizona, Barbados, Florida, Granada and most recently, as far away as New Zealand. His art enthusiasts range from children, to politicians (Tony Clement has a Napster hanging in his office, according to Tapley), to other distinguished artists.

And every penny he earns goes to charity.

“At first we all sat around and said well, what charity should he support?” says Tapley. “We chose Wing and a Prayer, cause he’s trying to score karma points. He’s got a lot to atone for there and that’s part of his 12-step don’t-eat-the-birds program.”

Wing and a Prayer is a bird rehabilitation centre in Muskoka, and although Napster is barely a year into his artistic career, he has already raised over $4,000 for the charity.

But he’s not picky.

Napster has supported other charities and causes, like helping a church raise money to build a new fence and donating artwork to raise money for Haiti. He’s even created a special painting for Sideroads of Muskoka, with all proceeds going to the Canadian Red Cross for Japanese relief efforts.

He’s even made a few public appearances. At a recent fundraiser for the Huntsville animal shelter, the Huntsville Otters carried Napster in to meet his public.

“He looked like Cleopatra going up the Nile,” laughs Tapley.

That day Napster raised about $300 in three hours.

The beauty of his artwork is that it can be interpreted in many different ways. His fans notice that Napster often uses bird imagery – very fitting for a cat so dedicated to saving the birds.

“You can keep turning them and they just keep changing,” says Tapley of the prints. “He thinks it’s a really good deal cause for your $40, you don’t just get one piece of art. You can switch it up. A seasonal Napster!”

What Tapley means is that you can display Napster’s affordable artwork however you want – each time you turn the painting it will show you a different picture. Napster likes to keep his fans on their toes, and everyone has their own interpretation.

“A little five year-old came in here and looked at this one painting,” says Tapley, “and I said what does it look like? And he said ‘well, that’s obvious – a penguin wearing a propeller hat going downhill on skis.’ So now when I look at it, I see the penguin with the propeller hat!”

And that’s the kind of joy that Napster inspires.

Of course, not everyone is enamoured with this feline’s paintings, but Tapley doesn’t care.

“He’s a novelty thing,” she says. “He’s for fun! If he doesn’t make you smile, you should just walk away. You’ve got to laugh at the cat that paints!”

As for the future of his career, Napster is fairly laid back about it all. Tapley is even considering a world tour next winter where she and Napster visit every warm and exotic place his art is displayed. But for now, Napster will stay in Muskoka, doing what he does best – making people smile.

“It’s a pretty dismal world at the moment,” says Tapley. “If you can’t laugh at cat art, what on earth are you going to laugh at?”

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